The challenges facing the next District 2 School Board member in Pasco County are many. He or she will oversee a budget that is expected to shrink again as state sales tax revenues lag, continue a building and hiring spree to accommodate student population growth, consider a burgeoning charter school movement, try to improve the employee pay scale while simultaneously seeking to better student achievement and increase the high school graduation rate.
Most notably, however, the next board member from central Pasco will be tasked with filling the shoes of the highly regarded Marge Whaley, who is retiring after 16 years on the board. The non-partisan School Board members are elected countywide, but must meet district residential requirements.
The departure of Whaley, the school district's director of nursing prior to joining the board in 1992, leaves the panel with no trained educator among its members. Most of the rest of the board — an accountant, businessman, member of a development family and the wife of a dentist — have performed competently. But it is Whaley's experience as an educator that has allowed her to provide the leading counterpoint to district administrators. For instance, it was Whaley who developed her own list of proposed budget cuts (including personnel reductions) in an attempt to free up money for raises previously promised to teachers.
Seeking to replace her are Kurt Conover, 57, the business development manager at HCA's Regional Medical Center, Bayonet Point; Peter Hanzel, 63, who retired to Pasco County in 2002 after a career as an education supervisor in the U.S. Department of Justice – Bureau of Prisons, and Joanne Hurley, 63, who is retiring after the election from her job as community relations coordinator for Florida's Turnpike Enterprise.
Each has positive attributes and all three talk of increasing parental involvement, maintaining teacher pay, pushing vocational training, endorsing career academies and scrutinizing the much-maligned teacher-training method known as Learning Focus Strategies.
However, it is Hurley's background in both education and in the community that allows her to stand out from the rest of the field. She has been a teacher, health educator and preschool administrator. As a community leader, she helped draft the updated comprehensive land use plan that guides growth in Pasco County. She reviewed the county's transportation impact fees and was the impetus behind the Land O'Lakes Visioning Committee which became the precursor to the sector planning elsewhere in Pasco. Hurley also was out front pushing for the Penny for Pasco sales tax, which has make the county a better place to live with new schools, improved intersections, more public safety equipment, preserved land and a reduction in school property taxes.
Conover has lifelong ties to Pasco and is a product of its public school system. He has an extensive record of community involvement including relevant stints on school advisory councils, the Pasco-Hernando Community College Tech Prep Committee, and the Denham Oaks PTA. He, too, supported Penny for Pasco.
But he is light on specific ideas on how to balance the budget, and his notion of some of the district's strengths — its geographic location abutting Hillsborough and Pinellas counties and its growth rate (which allows state funding to rise) — are more akin to the thinking of an economic recruiter than an educator.
Hanzel has been active in the Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce, his neighborhood Community Development District and the citizens committee advising county road planners. He offers specific ideas on potential spending cuts and suggests trimming training and travel budgets and consolidating vendor contracts.
But his equivocating on the proposed tax swap contained in the Amendment 5 referendum is troublesome. Hanzel said he would "probably vote no'' on the idea that leaves a multibillion-dollar shortfall in statewide education spending in 2011 but wouldn't tell other people how they should vote. Leadership is more than probabilities and School Board members shouldn't hesitate to be at the forefront of the campaigns involving education financing.
Hurley has assumed that role already, as evidenced this week when she urged observers at a candidate forum in Dade City to vote against three constitutional amendments that could jeopardize future funding for Florida's public schools.
The Pasco School Board needs Joanne Hurley and voters should elect her to the District 2 seat in the Aug. 26 election.